twilight years

Our childhood family dog was a Puerto Rican shelter dog – a terrier mix named Reagan. Reagan, not after the president, as my parents constantly explained, but after the little girl in The Exorcist. Aside from her complete and utter disinterest in fetching, tug of war, or toys of any kind, she was a kickass dog – obedient and patient and loving.

Reagan was about thirteen or so when we moved from Colorado to Virginia. She rode with me, at my feet in the front seat of our Caravan, and was basically a complete champ the entire way. But soon after the move her health began to deteriorate rapidly. Reagan was allergic to a lot of the new plant and bug life in humid Virginia, including the millions of fleas and ticks (not nearly so common on the dry plains of Colorado). Her hair began to fall out and she had mangy, oozy places all over from constantly scratching and scratching and scratching. She was arthritic and began to lose control of her bladder and we knew it was time to let her go.

I still feel bad about how we treated Reagan in the last days of her life. She was smelly and oozy and we were all just little girls still learning how to treat others, so we avoided her and shrieked at her to get away and fought over who’d have to clean up her latest mess, who’d have to take her out this time. We should have known better, but we didn’t.

It was another year or so before we got Belle. Remember Belle? She’s our golden retriever who had the super-scary Discovery-Channel-worthy splenic tumor last spring. Belle is also a kickass dog, though not much like Reagan at all. She loves toys and has never been terribly obedient. But still, a kickass dog.

Belle is thirteen now, and especially after her health scare last year, we know she won’t be with us forever. Though she doesn’t seem very feeble most days, her face has gotten very white over the years, and she’s slowed down a bit, and I know that a serious illness might be her last. So when Dad mentioned on the phone late last week that Belle was suddenly vomiting, having accidents in the house, and collapsing when she tried to walk, I figured I might be spending this past weekend saying goodbye.

I drove to HQ on Saturday morning, and by the time I got there I was ready to let her go peacefully if that was what seemed right. She had improved a bit since Thursday but was still clearly not well. She wasn’t as deathly ill as I’d feared, though, and we were able to get her to the car with minimal help from her leash and sling. As it turns out, we’ve dodged another bullet. She has a nasty ear infection, likely causing her dizziness and vomiting, and she also probably has a condition called peripheral vestibular syndrome, which will continue to affect her equilibrium but isn’t life-threatening. We have some prescriptions and an elevated food and water bowl set for her now, as bending her head down to food on the floor can exacerbate the dizziness. It’s so, so heartbreaking to see her collapse when trying to walk sometimes, but we know it will likely pass as she gets through her antibiotics.

I babied the hell out of her all weekend, cooking her rice and taking her out for walks and spending lots of time near her. I know the time we have left with her is limited, but I don’t know how limited it might be, and I want to have learned something from Reagan. I’m trying to store up some good time with Belle, just in case, but I’m not ready to let her go yet. I’m not ready.

9 Replies to “twilight years”

  1. Oh, Lorie. How heartbreaking. My parents’ baby choccy lab, Chloe, is pushing 9yrs old. She’s been gray for a while, but over the holidays I noticed her face is more white than brown. She’s my baby sister and I love her to death and it makes me sad to hear tell of her getting older and slowing down. I really can’t even think about it. And don’t get me started on my Milo. I will have a mental breakdown when it’s his time. Oh, good lord, I can’t even bear the thought. Enjoy the rest of your time with Belle- hopefully it will be years and years. Give her lots of hugs and kisses and whispered love.

  2. Aw – poor Belle… glad to hear that she is doing a little better on antibiotics though. And as for Reagan, I think it’s great to learn something, but don’t feel like you should have known… you were just a kid. And dogs don’t think the way we do, I’m sure her feeling weren’t hurt like a human’s.

  3. I’m glad Belle is OK. I can relate to your feelings though … the hurt of losing Coop is still very, very fresh.

  4. oh hon.

    i can’t imagine life without the wrigs. erin still gets choked up about andy, the puppy (she calls all dogs puppies) she lost right before i met her in person for the first time.

    good on you for spending time with her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.